I met Gino in first year high school. He was a transferee from another school, so it was the first time we met each other. We became seatmates, shared a couple of jokes, but were never really friends. I remember him as smart and articulate. He wasn't the best in class, but he was definitely above average.
After that year, we never became classmates again. I saw him once in a while, and worked with him in a school play during senior year, but our relationship never went beyond casual acquaintances. We interacted around the same circles, but our conversations rarely moved above polite small talk.
I was in college when I heard the news. Gino died in a plane crash. The news was shocking to say the least. He was young, definitely, but more than that, it came completely out of nowhere. I made plans to go to the wake with my friends to pay our respects.
The plane crash and its relation to Gino's death is notably depressing in one more aspect. You see, Gino was traveling with his family. And when I say family, I mean the whole clan. They just came back from a family reunion. The plane crash virtually wiped them all out.
When we came to the wake, there were 6 coffins, of varying sizes. I asked my friend Ron where the other dead were being kept. Ron said he didn't know. I saw Ioanis crying in a corner. Another acquaintance, Anthony, bought several garlands of sampaguita. He was carefully, artfully, arranging them on Gino's casket.
The news of the plane crash was certainly huge, and appeared on a lot of local news shows. The fact that one family came from a reunion made it even more tragic, so particular attention was brought to Gino's family even more. His best friend, Louis, told me that there was at least one survivor that he knew: Gino's mom. She wasn't able to attend the reunion because she was sick. She stayed at home while her family flew to Davao.
There was a short mass, and prayers were said over each of the closed caskets. Ioanis was still sobbing, and it was getting louder by the minute, but he was trying to compose himself. Ron's eyes were red, as were mine. There was a lump in my throat. Beyond grieving for a lost friend, we were, or at least I was, grappling with the absurdity of the situation. How could this happen? What does this mean? Why this complete unfair arbitrariness?
A few weeks after the funeral, I met up with Louis, and asked him how he was. He told me he's okay, and that he was making it a point to visit Gino's mom every week to see how she was. He told me that the first time he saw her, she was almost catatonic, but that she's getting better by the week. He was also worried for her. He didn't know, rather, didn't want to think about, what she would do if left to her own devices for too long. He wanted to share in her pain.
He said he missed Gino. But there was nothing he could do. He's moving on, he said.
I have one lasting memory of Gino, which is forever etched in my head. It was Christmas season, and one of his friends handed me a gift. We were seniors then. I opened the package, and found a large statue of an angel, as well as a love letter. I thought it was sweet. It was one of those instances that made me feel, during those difficult years, that I meant something to someone. Even someone I didn't really know. It made me feel glad to be alive.
Photo taken here.